Cablegate: Lebanon: Shia Health Minister Evaluates Hizballah,
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK
DE RUEHLB #3132/01 2710808
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 280808Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5808
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 0359
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 1196
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 BEIRUT 003132
NSC FOR ABRAMS/DORAN/MARCHESE/SINGH
STATE FOR NEA/ELA, NEA/FO:ATACHCO
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/26/2016
TAGS: LE PGOV PREL PTER KDEM
SUBJECT: LEBANON: SHIA HEALTH MINISTER EVALUATES HIZBALLAH,
Classified By: Jeffrey D. Feltman, Ambassador. Reason: 1.4 (d)
1. (S) Shia Health Minister Khalifeh (Shia, allied with Nabih
Berri) told the Ambassador that while Hizballah is cornered
in a security sense, it remains potent and dangerous
politically and could even make major inroads into Lebanon's
Sunni community. He speculated that Hizballah is using
Michel Aoun to push for a national unity government because
Hizballah could not otherwise expand its influence
sufficiently in a cabinet which already has its quota of
Shiites. He speculated that Hizballah would soon be
compelled to disarm one way or another. Meanwhile, relations
between PM Siniora and Speaker Berri remain difficult
following the "unnecessary" Jezzini affair, and Shia-Sunni
relations in general are tense. One way out of Lebanon's
current political blockage may be to propose early elections
and push for a new electoral law. End Summary.
2. (S) The Ambassador and Polchief called on Shia Health
Minister Mohammad Khalifeh (one of three Shia ministers in
the cabinet who are allied with Nabih Berri) in his office
September 27 to discuss the Lebanese political scene.
Khalifeh was troubled by what he saw as an "escalation" in
the tone of the political discourse; provocation is going out
of control. There were "too many" in the crowd at the
Hizballah rally last Friday; this is not the time for the
other parties to confront them.
HIZBALLAH IN A BOX, BUT POLITICALLY DANGEROUS
3. (S) Now that UNIFIL is here in force, Khalifeh continued,
we must focus on technical issues. Hizballah is not as free
to move around, the Ambassador suggested, and Khalifeh
agreed. They know their old freedom is over, but they need
to come out with a moral victory and a propaganda victory.
Then, he continued, we need to bring them into the inner
circle. We can't get rid of them; they are making too much
of a reputation for themselves looking after the poor.
4. (S) If they get their internal organization right,
Khalifeh said, Hizballah, with its financial resources, will
be in a position to control a large part of the Sunni
population of Lebanon also. That would be our nightmare
scenario, he said.
5. (S) Hizballah is under careful watch from Tehran, Khalifeh
said, but cannot do much in south Lebanon at present.
However, if Syria fails to make an arrangement with UNIIIC
and the Hariri tribunal,0 Hizballah will make our lives hell,
he said, and there will be a return to car bombs and terror
attacks. Syria can also use its Palestinian proxies and
sleeper agents in Lebanon.
6. (S) If Syria does make a deal on the UNIIIC inquiry,
Hizballah will make our lives hell politically, he said.
Syria has also been making inroads in Tripoli by inviting
Sunni clerics and other leaders for training and
indoctrination in Syria.
NATIONAL UNITY GOVERNMENT
7. (S) The Ambassador noted that Hizballah has been using a
negative marketing campaign to obtain its goal of a national
unity government. Khalifeh agreed, and added that Hizballah
is only coordinating with Aoun because there is no other way
for them to expand their influence in the cabinet. There are
five Shia members of the Council of Ministers, he noted, and
that number can't be changed to six or four. Even if the
cabinet is expanded to 30 members, only one additional Shia
seat is gained. Thus, Hizballah has expanded to be as
influential as it can be without controlling minister slots
belonging to other confessional groups -- i.e., Christian
ministers. That is why the alliance with Aoun is so
important to Hizballah, to allow Hizballah to gain a blocking
minority inside the cabinet by including Christian ministers
belong to Aoun.
BEIRUT 00003132 002 OF 003
8. (S) When the LAF deployed to the south, Khalifeh added,
Hizballah entered into political difficulties, and this lay
behind its increasing emphasis on a government of national
unity. He observed that the present government cannot be
dissolved before forming a new one, because not only will
President Lahoud withhold the new government's approval but
the political maneuverings to form a new cabinet will be
endless. Therefore Aoun's proposal of a national unity
government remains Hizballah's only recourse to expand its
power. Aoun would ask for a "main ministry" such as Justice,
Khalifeh suggested, as well as a number of new ministers
9. (S) How could Lahoud be made to agree, the Ambassador
asked. Khalifeh responded that Lahoud can't stand against
the Christians (meaning, presumably, Aoun and his followers).
Lahoud has few interests other than survival -- delaying the
time at which he will have to leave the office. After
Ramadan, Khalifeh suggested, the government will be under
greater pressure to form the national unity cabinet.
10. (S) What would Hizballah gain, the Ambassador asked; they
already have means to exercise power. Khalifeh suggested
that the party wants blocking power in the cabinet (i.e.,
one-third plus one of the ministers). They want assurances
over UNSCR 1701, including that the resolution won't be used
"for political purposes" or for controlling the border.
HIZBALLAH MUST DISARM
11. (S) Hizballah must change, Khalifeh said. They can't
refuse to. UNSCR 1701 has finished them as an armed group.
They will disarm in the same exercise as other parties
following the Civil War. They should be incorporated into
the LAF, and they will then fade away as an identity within
7-10 years, as no new generations of Hizballah fighters will
be recruited. When asked why Hizballah -- or Iran -- would
agree to such a future, Khalifeh said that "everyone will
oppose them, including the Shiites in the south." They want
the government to return to their lives, Khalifeh said, and
that means the LAF. Hizballah has 4-5,000 full-time
followers, Khalifeh estimated.
12. (S) The Ambassador noted that some had interpreted
Nasrallah's speech last Friday to say that Hizballah would
not disarm until there was a "clean and just government" in
place and that Nasrallah was the sole arbiter of when the
government achieved that state of cleanliness and justice.
The Minister suggested that that was a misinterpretation, and
that Nasrallah may not have been watching his words carefully
if he left that impression.
13. (S) Khalifeh noted that in three cases, Hizballah
redlines had been crossed. The LAF had deployed to the
south; UNIFIL was given an expanded mandate; and UNIFIL had
taken on the role of maritime patrolling, all against
Hizballah's will. On the latter, he noted the personal role
he had played in getting Council of Ministers approval,
making the proposal himself in the cabinet in order to
provide cover for Speaker Berri and Shia Minister of Foreign
Affairs Salloukh to support a maritime role for UNIFIL.
Although the Shia on the cabinet split over the decision,
with Hizballah dissenting, the Ambassador noted that the
current cabinet has not been a bad one for Hizballah.
14. (S) The Minister said that the recent flap over Surete
Generale chief Wafic Jezzini had added unnecessary tension to
the relationship between Speaker Berri and PM Siniora.
Jezzini is with Hizballah, and therefore Berri doesn't care
for him anyway, Khalifeh added. However, he explained, there
was a deal between them that Siniora broke by not addressing
in last week's Council of Ministers meeting the proposal,
which Siniora himself had added to the agenda, of creating a
committee to examine the question of whether or not Jezzini
was under the authority of Acting Interior Minister Fatfat.
Siniora had gone on to support Fatfat's move to refer Jezzini
BEIRUT 00003132 003 OF 003
to the state prosecutor's office, raising the temperature.
15. (S) The Ambassador characterized as scandalous the fact
that Jezzini had permitted Syrians to enter and leave Lebanon
without a record, and Khalifeh agreed that the security
services should be placed in a coordination mechanism and
answer to a "higher commission."
SHIA-SUNNI TENSIONS AND ELECTIONS
16. (S) In general, Shia-Sunni tensions are "high, but not at
a peak" Khalifeh said. The Ambassador noted that the PM
needs to rebuild his partnership with Berri, which is
currently broken. Khalifeh noted that Berri is also not
supporting Siniora or Hariri with the institutions of
government. The Ambassador recounted that he had suggested
to Berri that if the National Dialogue remains impossible,
that he should look at issues such as the electoral law to
focus the energies of different factions toward a common goal.
17. (S) The Minister suggested that a proposal for early
elections could focus politicians on reforming the electoral
law. The Minister continued that he would soon table an
election law before the Council of Ministers and also push
for early approval of ambassadorships for Washington, New
York and other key posts.